Robert De Niro as Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran, tough Mafia enforcer
Philadelphia to Chicago, Spring 1960
Film: The Irishman
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Design: Sandy Powell & Christopher Peterson
I heard you paint houses.
After years of proving himself as an enforcer to Mafia families around Philadelphia and northeast Pennsylvania, former truck driver Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) gets the phone call of his life when controversial labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) gets in touch with him for a “situation… that needs to be attended to.”
The exchange from Martin Scorsese’s latest organized crime epic, The Irishman, was lifted verbatim from the real Sheeran’s recollection included in Charles Brandt’s bestselling 2004 book of the same name, I Heard You Paint Houses:
“I heard you paint houses,” Jimmy said.
“Y-Y-Yeah, and I d-do my own carpentry work, too.” I was embarrassed because I was stammering.
“That’s what I wanted to hear. I understand you’re a brother of mine.”
“That’s right.” I was keeping my sentences short and my words few. “Local 107. Since 1947.”
“Our friend speaks very highly of you.”
“He’s not an easy man to please.”
“I do my best,” I said.
Since its premiere at the 2019 New York Film Festival, The Irishman has been suggested to be a top contender for the Academy Award for Best Picture, with Scorsese and De Niro rounding out the fields for Best Director and Best Actor, respectively.
What’d He Wear?
By 1960, Frank Sheeran has risen from a poor Teamster with a broken-down truck to a trusted mob enforcer about to be promoted into the big league through his association with Jimmy Hoffa. To reflect this boosted status, Sheeran dresses in a brown two-piece suit patterned in a trendy “atomic fleck” design. While flecked suiting had been present in menswear since at least the early 20th century, it enjoyed its peak of fashionability during the Jet Age with the imperfect flecks and slubs reflecting a starry sky, appealing to this cosmic-obsessed era.
Frank’s single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels of moderate width that reflect the narrowing of lapels and ties that would continue through the early 1960s. It has a welted breast pocket and low hip pockets with the flaps tucked in to just show the jetting. The sleeves are roped at the shoulders and finished with three buttons on each cuff.
Atomic fleck was a popular pattern for both sport jackets and matching suits, with Frank Sheeran wearing the latter. The suit’s double reverse-pleated trousers have straight side pockets, two button-through back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
Frank wears a slim leather belt with a small squared steel single-prong buckle that appears to be a dark brown leather to coordinate with his brown leather split-toe derby shoes worn with black socks.
Shirt and Tie #1: The Phone Call
Many of the shirts worn by De Niro, Pacino, Joe Pesci, and other cast members of The Irishman were made by Geneva Custom Shirts, an experienced New York shirtmaker that has made outstanding shirts for many productions, including several helmed by Martin Scorsese. Unlike the flashier gangsters of Goodfellas and Casino, costume designers Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson determined that the low-key organized crime figures in the world of The Irishman would take a more subtle approach to dressing, eschewing the distinctive spearpoint collar that has become a Scorsese film signature in favor of a more tasteful and universal style.
Unique textured shirtings add subtle touches of character to Frank Sheeran’s wardrobe without the excess of the fang-like collars or pastel silks of the shirts seen in Scorsese’s earlier canon. The white diamond-textured shirt that Sheeran wears when he receives the fateful “I heard you paint houses” phone call from Jimmy Hoffa has a semi-spread collar and button cuffs. His tie is likely vintage, split into two parts with a “downhill” diagonal split separating the solid brick red bottom from the gold nailhead-overlaid top, decorated with three ornate gold squares just below the split. (Unseen under the table, the tie blade is dipped in a solid old gold.)
Shirt and Tie #2: Chicago
When he arrives in Chicago and meets with Joey Glimcoe and Jimmy Hoffa, Sheeran wears another subtly textured white shirt, detailed with neat and tight rows of raised white slubs. Like his earlier shirt, this has a point collar, button cuffs, front placket, and breast pocket.
During this Chicago sequence, he wears a brown tie with a subtle two-toned checker board. Due to the low contrast of the shades of brown, it looks like a solid brown tie from a distance but a closer look via Netflix’s high-resolution streaming reveals that it is indeed a checker board pattern in such a large scale that the tie is only two “squares” wide.
Shirt and Tie #3: Career Day
Frank’s onboarding experience with Hoffa converts he and his family to full-time Hoffa fandom, and even his daughter advocates for the union leader during her “Career Day 1960” presentation at her school. A beaming Frank watches from the side of the room, wearing this suit and a micro-patterned white shirt with a different tie than the previously seen neckwear. This dark indigo tie is patterned with an askew foulard pattern of red-filled squares with gold edges organized in rows four squares wide.
Shirt and Tie #4: Swirls
Finally, the last prominently seen tie with this suit again calls on the brick-and-gold tones of the first “phone call” tie, patterned in gold swirls against a rusty brown ground. Like the other ties, he secures it with a thin gold-toned tie clip detailed with four diagonal ridges.
Frank combats the infamous gusts of the Windy City by wearing a taupe gabardine topcoat. The knee-length coat has a single-breasted, four-button fly front with edge swelling on the wide notch lapels. The padded shoulders are fashionably wide for a full, boxy fit through the body of the coat, which has hip pockets, cuffed sleeves, and a long single vent.
This pre-JFK era was the twilight of men’s hats (as well as Jimmy Hoffa’s power), and Frank wears a light olive-tinted felt fedora with a narrow grosgrain and grosgrain edges.
Having graduated from his utilitarian military-style field watch, Frank the successful gangster dresses his wrist with a gold tank watch. The watch has a rose gold rectangular dial with plain gold hour markers, a small 6:00 sub-dial, and a textured black leather strap.
Update! The watch has been identified by BAMF Style readers Cedric and Aldous as a Bulova President from the 1940s.
You can read more about The Irishman‘s costume design in these contemporary features and interviews with Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson:
The costume designers also cited the invaluable help of assistant costume designer Brittany Griffin who also happened to be Frank Sheeran’s granddaughter and was able to share archival photographs and even items that belonged to her grandfather.
Frank Sheeran packs a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver for his trip to Chicago, beginning a long tradition of keeping his “friend” handy to protect Hoffa. Alternatively known as the “Chiefs Special” following a vote when it was introduced at the 1950 International Association of Chiefs of Police convention, the five-shot Model 36 in .38 Special has been favored by cops and crooks alike for its balance of power and concealability. Frank carries a few Model 36 revolvers throughout The Irishman, using them for hits and keeping them handy for his bodyguard detail.
What to Imbibe
Anisette, Sambuca, Scotch, Chianti… it’s always safe to assume you’re going to be seeing these in a Martin Scorsese movie, specifically one set in the mid-century mob community. The Irishman is no exception and for good reason as Frank Sheeran admitted to Charles Brandt in I Heard You Paint Houses that Chianti was his booze of choice after acquiring a taste for the dry red wine while serving in Italy during World War II.
Brandt’s book also includes an entertaining anecdote during Sheeran’s early days of working for Jimmy Hoffa, famously a teetotaler who reportedly disdained drinking among his ranks. Sheeran had been paired up with Bill Isabel and Sam Portwine, two union guys working in a public relations capacity for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters… though Bill’s noted proficiency in bombing suggests a more sinister set of skills than the usual publicist’s duties of drafting press releases and fielding media interviews.
I spent nights at the Edgewater, mostly rooming with Jimmy Hoffa when he came in from his home in Detroit. Sam and Bill and I would cut a hole in a watermelon and fill it with rum so Jimmy didn’t know we were drinking. “Boy, you men sure like your watermelon,” Jimmy would say.
The Irishman depicts Frank learning the watermelon trick from gregarious Chicago labor racketeer Joey Glimco (Bo Dietl), who jams a bottle of Bacardi into a fresh watermelon. In the subsequent scene, Frank and Joey blissfully enjoy their watermelon slices while the teetotaling Hoffa sticks to his Canada Dry ginger ale.
If you’re interested in enjoying rum and watermelon but you don’t have to hide your imbibing from anyone, check out this recipe for a Watermelon Rum Cocktail, courtesy of the Food Network:
Puree 1⅓ cups diced seedless watermelon in a blender until very smooth. Pour into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and add the ½ cup rum (white or dark), 2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur (such as triple sec), and 2 tablespoons lime juice. Shake vigorously and strain into 2 ice-filled cocktail glasses. Garnish each with a lime round.
How to Get the Look
Vintage touches like flecked suiting, retro-patterned ties, and tastefully textured shirts go a long way in establishing Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran as an increasingly fashionable mid-century mobster.
- Brown “atomic fleck” wool suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vent
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White textured shirt with semi-spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and rounded button cuffs
- Brick red-and-gold vintage-patterned tie
- Silver ridged tie clip
- Slim dark brown leather belt with small squared steel single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather split-toe derby shoe
- Black dress socks
- Taupe gabardine single-breasted topcoat with notch lapels, 3-button covered-fly front, and straight hip pockets
- Light olive felt fedora with narrow grosgrain band
- Gold wedding ring
- Gold tank watch with rose gold dial on black textured leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, currently streaming on Netflix. I also recommend reading I Heard You Paint Houses, the 2004 memoir by Charles Brandt that inspired The Irishman. (If you read the book, you’ll see that The Irishman somewhat condenses the narrative of Frank Sheeran’s first association with Jimmy Hoffa, moving the time and place from Detroit around 1958 to Chicago, circa early 1960.)
Nowadays, young people, they don’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was. They don’t have a clue. I mean, maybe they know that he disappeared or something, but that’s about it. But back then, there wasn’t nobody in this country who didn’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was.